Set-up and modules of the curriculum

Besides the low number of lessons per week, which is only one part of the problem – and the smaller one at that – the more stressing issue is that in Hungarian secondary schools, media teaching is mostly only present as an optional class. An average secondary school lasts for 4 years, with the grades numbered from 9 to 12. Students in their first two years may have media lessons in the form of so-called modules, while 11th and 12th graders have the same option, but the lessons in their cases are classified as part of the arts subjects. This means that schools have the option to choose from three lessons from the module category; namely: media lessons, drama classes, and social studies, and later on it is yet again up to the schools if they want to teach media or another subject related to the arts instead.

Due to this optional nature of the subject, even some students and teachers question the seriousness of the lessons, not to mention the timing, as 11th and 12th graders prefer focusing only on key subjects which are needed for their mandatory final exams, in which of course media lessons are not included. Despite this reception, the 2020 General Curriculum still aims to cover over a hundred years’ worth of technological and ideological development, along with roughly 40 movies, all in the timespan of 62 lessons. This problem is tackled at many schools by only teaching one part of the whole curriculum out of four. However, in those schools where media lessons are available as regular lessons, or as elective lessons, the students have the chance to familiarize themselves with everything included in the subject at an appropriate pace.

What happens once a student gets through these randomized filters then?

To be able to answer this question, I set out to examine the most popular course book, and two versions of the General Curriculum: the current 2012 version, and the yet-to-be-implemented 2020 version. All in all, there are roughly 15 expressions in the 2012 General Curriculum, along which fake news could be discussed. "Reality", "documentary", "advertisements", "manipulation", and "influence theory" are the 5 most prominent expressions out of the 15 which are closest to “fake news”; however, the notion itself cannot directly be found in the document.

In the 2020 version, there are more than 30 expressions that closely relate to the term, but more interestingly, it is actually highlighted in the document in bold letters this time. Besides “fake news” there are even more up-to-date expressions, such as: "disinformation", "news values", and "credibility" which form an important part of the topic itself.

A student’s most important tool, however, is the course book.

In Hungary, the most popular course book is written by László Hartai, which in its current version perfectly matches the requirements of the 2012 General Curriculum. Besides the fact that the book is of unquestionable quality, the other reason why most teachers choose to use this book is that László Hartai is the person in charge of designing the GCSE media exam, and this way the students have the chance of getting used to the kind of tasks and questions which will be present in their exams. For instance, the book designed for 9th graders tackles topics that may be linked to “fake news” through 43 lengthy and detailed pages out of 116, but astonishingly the notion itself does not have its own chapter, nor is it mentioned directly.

Media Education is one of the most dynamic, ever-developing fields where we can observe how our lives are changed and affected significantly on a daily basis. This is why it is the teachers’ responsibility to improve themselves, to be up-to-date with information, and to supplement their outdated books with relevant examples, so that they can proficiently guide their students through the misleading and confusing maze of the media. This process is further enhanced by integrated teaching, which makes it possible for students to learn about different notions within the contexts of different subjects. Hungarian grammar lessons, for instance, are perfect for a discussion about fake news which may be the only option for students at schools where media lessons are not available.

Where to turn then? - Easily accessible alternatives

All is not lost, however, as despite how complicated the current situation is due to the problems surrounding the National Curriculum and the books available to students, there are still several, easily accessible alternatives. There are non-profit, civil society actors and organizations all over the globe who specialise in providing lessons regarding humanitarian questions, including fake news. One of these organizations, for instance, is Amnesty International whose lesson plans are available on their Hungarian and English websites as well. These lessons function best as after-school activities, since due to their drama pedagogical elements, immersion can occur easier if the students experience the tasks outside of their usual environment.

The DIA - Foundation for Democratic Youth, the School of Public Life (Közélet Iskolája), among others, are developing playful educational methods and teaching materials related to democracy and the public sphere.

The Televele Association and the Idea Foundation provide free educational and support materials, mainly for teachers. The latter's InfoGround programme is specifically designed to help schools deal with news and disinformation. Their materials are also available as free online courses.

If, by chance, there are no such organizations in your area who specialise in such activities, then teachers can try tasks like these on their own, maybe for example, as a part of homework assignments. Tasks built upon drama pedagogical elements have the possibility of improving the students’ critical thinking skills, and their relationships within a classroom setting, so the benefits are multifaceted. Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, for instance, is a compilation of such activities and it was made for aspiring teachers who seek to broaden their students’ horizons. This book so far has been translated into 31 languages, and it is materials like this one that makes it possible for students to obtain a deep understanding of fake news in Hungary.

Another free and accessible tool that could be used by teachers, nonprofits, or anyone interested, is the online course section of the Hive Mind Community. Check out the available resources we've collected on our website – after all, it’s not only at school that one can learn!

Background illustration: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels